John Martin: "Transportation is a fight that I'm proud to be a part of." Lucy Gellman Photos.
You and your friend aren’t seeing eye to eye on New Haven’s bus system. You think it’s pretty terrible—and you take it all the time. He thinks it’s easy, quick and convenient—but he only takes it once every few months. The fights about it have become their own kind of gridlock. So to settle things, the two of you walk to a local bakery, pick up a a loaf of bread, some hummus, and a spreading knife—and talk it out.
That’s the idea behind “Bread Breakers,” a new monthly discussion series hosted by Chabaso Bakery that seeks to get New Haveners from different areas of the city—and different racial, socioeconomic, social, and political backgrounds—to sit down, have a conversation, and literally break bread together. Amid loaves of free Chabaso bread and rolls, discussants can opt to have their conversations recorded and archived for the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress, a project run by StoryCorps.
After beta-testing the series last week at Chabaso’s James Street bakery in Fair Haven, the bakery is rolling out another session on Aug. 2 at Atticus Bookstore Cafe on Chapel Street. Chabaso Communications Director Reed Immer said he wants future sessions to broach topics including immigration, civil liberties, and economic development.
Last week, the conversation turned toward transportation, with the Bradley Street Bicycle Co-Op (BSBC) signing on as a collaborating partner. As Immer and Atticus Chief Executive Officer Charles Negaro, Jr. set out shelves of bread and tents to protect attendees from the sun, a steady stream of attendees rolled, biked, and walked in. As they took seats at a long table with two microphones, Immer swiped through questions he’d prepared on an iPad.
Trish Karter and John Martin: Does Boston best New Haven?
“What’s the most frustrating part of transportation in New Haven?” he asked as BSBC Founder John Martin and Chabaso Chief Executive Officer Trish Karter, both bike enthusiasts and transplants from the Boston area who had signed up to record their conversation.
“The cars don’t like you!” Karter suggested, smiling just a little. After living in a city that does do bikeability well, she said the Elm City’s roads don’t seem particularly bike friendly, despite a growing number of bike lanes. Martin jumped in, noting the number of one-way streets that can make navigating cars difficult. He pointed to other concerns, including neighborhood safety and access to bikes across the city.
Immer nodded, questions tumbling forward. What did they think about New Haven’s bus system? What’s the most viable option for getting somewhere quickly? Is New Haven a walkable city, or does it still have a lot of work to do in that department? Had either of them ever tried mounting a bike on the front of a bus? Could they name one funny thing that happened to them while taking transit through New Haven?
Karter recalled getting a flat while biking home “in a super rush” through Fair Haven, where the bakery is located. After pulling her bike over to the side of the road, she met two mechanics who offered to give her a hand with the tire, and then realized that the bike would need more maintenance than they could provide.
Lesley Roy and Reed Immer chat while picking out some bread.
The three worked through a communication barrier, with Karter hopping in with what little Spanish she had. They ended up driving her all the way home. So much, she said, for Fair Haven’s reputation in some New Haven circles as a “bad neighborhood.”
“I was speaking my pidgin Spanish and they were speaking their pidgin English and we made it work,” she said. She adjusted the mic just a little. “I still need to bring them a loaf of bread as a thank-you.”
She also suggested that they “round up all the bicycle haters” to have a similar discussion, that they might see eye-to-eye with cyclists after hearing their concerns about navigating the city. Martin nodded avidly.
“Transportation is a fight that I’m proud to be a part of,” he said.
Angel Santiago, one of the bakers.
Not all of the attendees were cycling enthusiasts. A few had taken the bus, and had some fighting words for state transportation czar James Redeker about the lack of public transit in the state. Others had driven there, and talked about the challenges of biking around when they had multiple errands to run, or were concerned about getting somewhere before businesses closed for the weekend.
One tent over, Westville artist Lesley Roy picked up a hummus, radish and pesto tartine from bakers Peter Abrams and Angel Santiago, chatting with them about biking in the summer heat.
“I think this is phenomenal,” she said. “It’s time to open up conversations and have debates, discussion and dialogue that engages people.”
“When we come together, I think good comes from it,” she added. “We’re more human.”
The mission of Chabaso’s new series, said Immer, is “to create opportunities for people with diverse viewpoints on divisive issues to break bread together and have brief, respectful conversations.” To find out more about the series, check out Chabaso’s event page on Facebook.